2019 Review: Brazil, China, Italy, Russia, Serbia, USA book first tickets to Tokyo 2020


Lausanne, Switzerland, December 23, 2019 – In early August 2019, six women’s national teams from four different continents - Brazil, China, Italy, Russia, Serbia and USA – booked the first tickets to the volleyball tournament of the 2020 Olympic Games to join hosts Japan from July 24 through August 9 in Tokyo.

24 of the world’s best teams were split into six qualification pools at six different venues and a single round-robin tournament was played in each of them to determine the final standings. The six pool winners took all...

Reigning world and European champions and silver medalists from Rio 2016 Serbia took the spoils at the tournament in Wroclaw. After each defeating both Thailand and Puerto Rico, the southern European side and hosts Poland met face to face in the last deciding match. The Serbs recovered from a first set loss to claim a 3-1 victory, while Tijana Boskovic and Malwina Smarzek engaged in a fierce scoring race, which ended with a tie – 27 points each. Over the course of the three competition days, Smarzek piled up 78 points to her name and became the best scorer across all six tournaments.

“It's a great success!” Serbia’s coach Zoran Terzic exclaimed. “For the fourth time in a row, Serbia will be at the Olympic Games and it's definitely something that we didn't even dare to dream about 15-20 years ago. Now this dream is coming true and we are going for our second Olympic medal.”

Reigning Olympic champs China made sure they stay well on track to defending their 2016 title. At their home qualification tournament in Ningbo, coach Lang Pong’s squad cruised to three-point victories over Czechia and Germany before facing the other unbeaten side in the pool, Turkey, in the deciding match. In a one-sided game, China allowed the opponents only 48 points in total and mastered a speedy straight-set win with a 20-point contribution from their star player and MVP at Rio 2016 Ting Zhu.

Two-time VNL winners and Olympic medalists from the last three editions of the Games USA also secured a spot at Tokyo 2020, but for them the home qualification tournament in Shreveport-Bossier City was not as straight-forward. Twice in the second-day match against their main opponents Bulgaria, the Americans were one set behind before eventually pulling off a 3-2 victory, which was enough for them to narrowly edge the Europeans in the final standings. Jordan Larson scored 23 times in that game, while Elitsa Vasileva topped the charts with 24 points for Bulgaria. Argentina and Kazakhstan finished the pool in third and fourth place, respectively.

"We can be really proud with how we fought through here, especially the challenge that Bulgaria threw at us, down two sets to one, and the nice response we put together,” United States’ coach Karch Kiraly commented. “This is huge for the programme! Everybody knows that we are going to Tokyo. We got that ticket locked in!”

USA’s Jordan Larson spikes against Bulgaria

Olympic gold medalists from Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Brazil had to go through two tie-break scares in their qualification pool at home in Uberlandia before booking their ticket to Tokyo 2020. After a speedy shutout of Cameroon on day one, the South Americans had to come back from a set down (1-2) to claim a 3-2 victory over Azerbaijan on day two and set up a day three decider against the other undefeated team in the pool, Dominican Republic. After losing the first two sets, the Caribbean Queens fought back to level the score and prompt a fifth set, which went Brazil’s way. Lorenne Geraldo Teixeira hammered out 24 points towards her team’s dramatic victory.

The qualification tournament in Kaliningrad also finished with a five-set drama, in which hosts Russia mounted a spectacular comeback from two sets down against Korea to please the seven thousand on the stands with a 3-2 victory and a spot at Tokyo 2020. It was the deciding match as both the successors of four-time Olympic champs USSR and the Asian side had previously defeated the other two teams in the pool, Canada and Mexico. Korea’s Yeon Koung Kim finished the tournament on 77 points, one short of scoring leader Smarzek.

"There was nowhere to retreat, everything was practically decided and we took a chance. We took the risk in attack and it was a fairy tale with a happy ending. This probably happens once in a lifetime. Now let's move on!" said an elated Vadim Pankov, coach of Russia.

2018 World Championship silver medallists Italy were the only team that cruised to the Olympic berth without dropping a single set along the way. At home, in Catania, they shut out Kenya and Belgium on the first two competition days. So did the Netherlands. However, on day three, the Dutch were no match to the Italians as Paola Egonu’s firepower delivered 25 points towards another straight-set triumph for the home side.

The remaining five women’s vacancies at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic volleyball tournament will be filled in January when the five confederations organize their continental qualifiers.